BOOKS: RUDY AS ALL-AMERICAN HERO - THe former NY mayor has led such a dynamic life that you wonder he doesn't wear a cape. Yet his advice is paltry, says Richard Reeves

BOOKS: RUDY AS ALL-AMERICAN HERO - THe former NY mayor has led such a dynamic life that you wonder he doesn't wear a cape. Yet his advice is paltry, says Richard Reeves - Leadership; By Rudolph Giuliani; Little Brown pounds 16.99

by RICHARD REEVES
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Leadership; By Rudolph Giuliani; Little Brown pounds 16.99

Modesty is not part of the American character. But even within the US, New Yorkers are viewed as pretty full of themselves. So a New Yorker who becomes mayor of his own city is unlikely to display Gandhi-like humility. Saying all this, Rudolph Giuliani's self-absorption to the point of narcissism - if his book Leadership is any kind of gauge - is still startling. Rudy has won many admirers, especially since 9/11. But this book reveals his number one fan to be Rudy himself.

Not that he has any particular reason to be modest. He's a successful politician, twice-elected as a Republican to the mayoralty of a Democrat town. And he's had a fairly interesting life. But it's hard to forgive the packaging of an auto-hagiography as a lesson in leadership. (At least his successor, Michael Bloomberg - perhaps the only person whose ego could shade Rudy's - had the honesty to call his book Bloomberg on Bloomberg.)

Since 9/11, Giuliani is now of course a world-renowned personality. He filled the vacuum left by George W Bush's silence. Few can doubt that had the White House had a different occupant - Bill Clinton, say - Giuliani's public role would have been smaller. But he did the right things: went to the site, consoled, reassured, made necessary decisions, spoke to the media and expressed the anger and hurt of a city and a nation. And his descriptions of the events are restrained.

At times like these, oceans of self-confidence are a priceless asset.

Scared people need leaders who are not riddled with self-doubt. When a population's confidence has been shaken, it wants a leader whose own confidence is unshakeable. Rudy fits this bill perfectly.

Indeed, the Giuliani who lives in this book is a cartoonish, no-nonsense, straight-talking, all-American hero. At times you wonder that he doesn't wear a cape. There's Rudy the rescuer in 1992, gaining a Fire Department medal for rushing into and clearing a burning St Agnes church. And Rudy the business magician, taking over a coal company in Hazard, Kentucky in 1978 (I'm not making this up) as a court-appointed receiver and pulling it out of bankruptcy and into a going financial concern. The key was 'being able to deal with men like Andy and Buggy' - apparently by not being frightened during a hair-raising helicopter ride over the site.

And there's Rudy the hotshot lawyer, delivering an off-the-cuff summary argument in only his fourth case in 1970, which the judge confided was 'one of the best summations he'd ever heard' and - surprise - winning the case. And of course Rudy the Seinfeld cameo.

At one point, Giuliani describes himself as 'my most severe critic', a statement for which the book provides not a shred of supporting evidence. Not a single instance of a decision he later thought was wrong. No examples of someone with a different view from his own winning the day. Not a single mistake. Or a single regret. 'While trying to retain humility ... and guarding against arrogance,' he says, 'accept that maybe you really do know better.' This is not an acceptance he himself seems to have struggled with.

If you are really, really interested in Rudy, this book is for you. There are four pages on how he chose his police commissioner, 15 on his prostate cancer (including a mention of a digital rectal scan) and three on his decision to support George W Bush over John McCain.

But if you want to know what he thinks about leadership, to save you some time here's a pretty comprehensive distillation of Giuliani's Gems: hold an 8am staff meeting; be accountable; 'find the best person suited for the job'; 'make the right choices'; speak from the heart; 'identify the core purpose of an organisation and align the resources and focus along with that purpose'; 'establish priorities and stick to them'; 'anticipate all the time'.

Giuliani is clearly a decisive and effective man. He was arguably a good New York mayor. And he had a great moment in history after 9/11. It's a shame, then, that he's written such a dreadful book.

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